Euro success ends 30 years of hurt for Northern Ireland

Golfer Rory McIlroy has hailed a “great night” for football in Northern Ireland as the country entered its first major tournament for 30 years.

The nation stormed into football’s European Championships in emphatic style with a 3-1 triumph over Greece at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill celebrates with two-goal hero Steven Davis. Picture: Press Eye.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill celebrates with two-goal hero Steven Davis. Picture: Press Eye.

Supporters sang Queen’s classic “we are the champions” and for one night at least they were.

Holywood-born McIlroy tweeted his praise for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, who won 1-0 against world champions Germany.

Referring to the host nation for the championships, he said: “Anyone for France next year?”, before adding: “Unbelievable result for the republic too! Great night for the island of Ireland, north and south. Hopefully see both teams in France next yr.”

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “Huge congratulations to Northern Ireland on qualifying for the European Championships for the first time.”

The Botanic Inn in Belfast was crammed with the green-clad army of supporters who have waited so long for a night to savour.

Jonny Ashe said: “It is the first in my life time so why not? Party time.”

Guinness flowed as quickly as the plaudits.

Amy Gillen from Belfast said: “I am absolutely over the moon, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, we are going to France.”

Northern Ireland had expected since the ball started hitting the back of the net early on.

Captain Steven Davis found the target and the cheers were deafening.

“We are not Brazil we are Northern Ireland” rang out accompanied by clenched fists and raised Harp glasses.

The Mexico World Cup of 1986 was the last time the small country tasted major tournament football.

Now all roads will head south once again.

Chants of “Green Army” echoed around the cavernous pub bedecked incongruously in Irish rugby bunting, but taken over for one special evening by football.

A second goal prompted calls of “Here we come France” and “We are going to France”.

And the wave of bouncing feet and waving arms which greeted the final whistle could have greeted a World Cup final goal.

Garry Goodman, 32, said: “Watch out, they are going to have an extra player behind them with this support.”

Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: “Incredible night for Irish football, congrats Martin and Michael O’Neill (managers) & both teams. Beating the world champions in Dublin so amazing.”

Democratic Unionist first minister Peter Robinson said: “Tremendous result and achievement. Huge congratulations to Michael O’Neill and team. Great night for Northern Ireland.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers also tweeted her congratulations.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams called for one “world beater” united Ireland team.